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Is New England Patriots CB Malcolm Butler a #1 CB? Part 1

A look at Malcolm Butler's performance this preseason against the Green Bay Packers.

Malcolm Butler has the athleticism and confidence to be a top cornerback
Malcolm Butler has the athleticism and confidence to be a top cornerback
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Malcolm Butler will be forever remembered for this play. Butler's story of perseverance ended with one of the NFL's most iconic plays in the Super Bowl era last year. This year, he has a chance to take that story up to the next level and perhaps even rivaling Tom Brady's story of perseverance. Last year, he was the 90th player on the roster who came to the team as a tryout in rookie minicamp. This year, Butler is the #1 CB on the Patriots depth chart and he was the Patriots best CB this preseason. The question remains if the strong play will continue into the regular season. Here is a break down his performance on a target-by-target basis.

In the preseason, Butler only allowed 1 of 7 passes to be completed for 10 yards (Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald charting these numbers). In the second preseason game, Drew Brees didn't even look his way and after the game was praising Malcolm Butler's. When a top QB in the NFL gives sincere praise to a cornerback, that's saying something. It's hard to pin Butler's true speed and athleticism because his Pro Day numbers don't match the tape. I think that had to do with Butler being a long shot prospect and not being able to train with world-class professional trainers for the athletic tests. On tape, Butler holds up well against receivers that were clocked at 4.4. His change of direction ability isn't great, but is not a liability either. Athletically, I think he has potential to be a #1 CB if you look at the tape and not the Pro Day numbers.

Vs. Green Bay (1-3 10 yards)

On this play, the Packers had picked up a first down with an Eddie Lacy run and were going no-huddle to try to catch the Patriots defense unprepared. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers looks to Davante Adams on the go route. The broadcast did not show the play until the ball had been snapped, so I wasn't able to show what type of release Adams got. However, during the entirety of the route, Butler was step for step with Adams and funneled him towards the sideline. That left Rodgers very little room to complete the pass and the fall fell to the ground 3 yards past Adams.

This was the only completion he gave up all preseason. After defending the deep fade earlier in the drive, Butler gave Adams a bigger cushion than necessary on the play. Butler was 5 yards off the receiver when Adams broke inside on the slant. That's more than enough room for what Rodgers needs to complete the pass. Butler does a good job of recovering and is back on top of the receiver and delivers a big hit before Adams' feet touch the ground. That's a case of Butler being able to recover after getting beat by an in-breaking route and preventing yards after the catch.

The Packers had driven down to the Patriots 5-yard line and had 2nd and goal. In a matchup of the 6'2" Adams vs. the 5'11" Butler, Rodgers was hoping that Adams' size would win the matchup on a short fade route. Adams jab-steps to the inside to try to get Butler to take a false step, but Butler lines himself up in a good athletic position where he can quickly break either way. Butler is able to mirror Adams step for step and quickly converges on the route. On plays like this one, defensive backs are coached to play the receiver's hands. Butler does a great job of reading his receiver's hands and gets his hands up just as quick. Rodgers tries to float it up in the air for his receiver to make a play on, but Butler was able to knock down Adams' right hand to prevent the touchdown.

While Davante Adams was the Packers #3 receiver and 2nd outside receiver at the time, Malcolm Butler was all over him for 2 of the 3 plays highlighted. His technique was textbook on both incompletions and on the only completion he prevented yards after the catch. I believe Butler has the athleticism and the confidence necessary to be a #1 CB in the NFL, the question is does he play like one this year? Part 2 of this film review will cover the preseason game against the Carolina Panthers since Brees did not target Butler on a single pass attempt.